I was just 1500 miles into the initial 48-state portion of this continuing journey, when I stopped for a meal at a patio bistro on Missouri’s Katy Trial. The Big’s distinctive profile gets noticed, even where other bicycles abound, and a young lady at the next table asked about the bike. I explained the mobile-observatory role the Big plays in the Pedaling Astronomer Project, and the young lady exclaimed, “I’m coming over!”
People are friendlier to old fellows on overloaded bicycles.
A half hour into our impromptu Q&A, she asked, “Don’t you get lonely, traveling alone?”
I hadn’t thought of the journey in those terms, so gave her question serious consideration before answering, “I’m a writer/editor, which, like field astronomy, is a mostly solitary vocation. Before this journey, I lived alone outside a rural community and worked from home. I rode that same bike the same distances I do now, every day, but always out and back. I could still be doing that, but because I finally rode out and away, I’m here. With you. Connecting. No, I don’t feel lonely. Not now.”
Out and back is well worth doing. For me, outside is always preferable to in, especially at night, and pedaling a bicycle is its own reward. But out and back is a closed loop that rarely admits new connections.
Out and away? New connections are the rule, as repeated encounters, such as that with the young lady on the Katy Trail, have proved countless times.
It was as I considered my answer to “Don’t you get lonely” that I realized, I would not be going back to the life I had lived before this journey. It was in that moment, just a month and a half in, that it transformed from bicycle tour to odyssey.
Merriam-Webster defines tour as: “a journey … often involving a series of stops and ending at the starting point.”
Like mine, tour connotes a longish journey with specific purpose, but “ending at the starting point” is just another way of saying out and back.
Contrast odyssey, “a long wandering … usually marked by many changes of fortune; an intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest.”
Which is to say, out and away.
When going out and away, you not only don’t have a predetermined destination, it eventually becomes impossible to predict where the journey might lead … and to whom.
The epiphany of out and away was, for me, metamorphic – one I might never have realized but for that chance connection at a bistro I did not know existed until I rounded a bend in the Katy Trail.
“If you’re not growing, you are dying” – so often repeated as to risk becoming trite, but true nonetheless. I suppose there was growth in my years of writing from home while living alone. At minimum, I became a more experienced writer. But there was little in that existence to encourage growth as a friend, companion, son, father or brother.
Better than gaining more writing experience is to live more meaningful experiences about which to write.
Better, still, to discover new connections whose companionship to enjoy and from whom to learn.
For as long as I am physically and mentally able, I will remain on this journey, out and away, relishing every unforeseen detour, delighting in each unexpected connection, and sharing views of the heavens with all to whom the journey leads.
I trust our paths will cross too, yours and mine, somewhere between now and that end. Until then, clear skies, friend, and may the wind be forever at your back.
(Photo: The Trail Smokehouse along Missouri’s famed Katy Trail, where bicycles and cyclists abound, but the Big – long, strong and steady – still turned heads.)